17 February 2008

#58. The Syncing Honeymoon Is Over

Frustration has returned to the Tool Bar & Grill. A few years ago, I didn’t think about how a USB flash drive could make my life easier. Now I can’t live without at least one. But each new solution brings still newer problems, especially for someone as lazy as your Tool Bar chef.

The new problem is synchronizing multiple computers through the flash drive. I have a PC in the office and one at home, and found the easiest way to keep folders and files up to date at both locations is by copying them to and from the flash disk. But not easy enough, of course. I went looking for a utility that would compare folders on the local hard disk and the flash disk, and automatically copy the newer files over. I found Allway Sync, as described in my post #27 (1 July 2007), and life was good. Until recently.

Allway Sync is free for personal use, but is restricted to 20,000 files per 30-day period. That’s a lot more files than I sync each month. But then Allway Sync warned me that I had exceeded the limit, because it counts all the folders and files it scans, not just the ones it copies. And a few days later, Allway Sync stopped working and suggested I buy the Pro version ($19.95 for one computer, $9.95 for an additional license).

I decided first to find and test some new freeware syncing utilities to see how they stack up against Allway Sync before plunking down my hard-earned money.

What I Want in a Sync Tool

At the least, a folder and file synchronization utility should work bidirectionally, but you would be surprised how many purported sync tools work in one direction only. It should allow you to maintain multiple pairs of folders for synchronizing. I immediately ruled out utilities that lack these features.

A good sync program should provide configurable rules to govern how it decides which files to copy where. It should support filtering, enabling you to specify file types to skip over (backup and temporary files, for example). It should display a preview of the file changes it plans before the actual operation, giving you a chance to change the default actions.

All synchronizers provide day-and-time or interval scheduling, either built-in or using the Windows task scheduler (but this is more suitable for backing up than for synchronizing). I’d like them to provide launch triggers beyond the typical such as launching when a USB flash disk is inserted or removed, or when files in the monitored folders are changed.

The table below shows the features of the sync utilities I tested that floated toward the top of my rankings.

Name

Rules

Filters

Preview

Launch on USB insert or removal

Launch on file change

Allway Sync 7

Y

Y

YY

Y

Y

Sync Expert 1.9

Y

Y

YY



SyncBack Free 3.2.10

Y

Y

Y



Microsoft SyncToy 2 β

Y

Y

Y



Flash Synchron RC 1




Y



A double Y means the preview shows the type and direction of the file operation; in other previews, you have to analyze the file time stamps yourself to puzzle out what is about to happen.

As you can see, none of the freeware sync tools I tested measures up to Allway Sync. Though some come close, all the others require some manual intervention to start their sync jobs.

Dear readers, I welcome you to send me your suggestions. Tell me about the free synchronization utilities you know and love, as well as share any other thoughts, by clicking on “comments” below or writing to me at jonathanstoolbar@gmail.com.

And now for something completely different… a special review of text-based Web browsers for speed demons, by my ever-slender friend Mark Lautman.

My Browser Is Lighter Than Yours

by Mark Lautman

I came across a web site that tells you what you may not want to know: your body mass index. The BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight, and like tuberculosis, nobody is safe from it. I'm a thin guy, but my short height of 5'9" (1.75m) dooms me to a BMI of 24.8, which is just a breath away from being overweight. [My BMI shall remain classified. –JP]

Here in the Tool Bar's Linux Room we do our share to fight excess weight [unlike in main room –JP], and we start where it counts most: on the personal computer. First, go in front of the mirror with your computer and look at your Web browser. The installation kit for Firefox is 5.6 MB; for Internet Explorer, 14.7 MB. Who knows what else is installed on your machine when you start using these applications. They also have big problems with security, privacy, and generally reprehensible content.

That's where text-based browsers come in. These programs were used in the very early days of the Internet, and still are popular among those who have BMIs of 24.8.

The best text-browser I found was elinks (Linux). It supports many features of the mega-browsers, such as cookies, forms, searches, history, and launchers for external plug-ins, in a very small package. Because elinks doesn't display graphics, there is no need to render pages with particular dimensions and wrapping; this makes the response time amazingly fast.

Another popular text-based browser is Lynx (Windows, Linux). Here is what the Tool Bar and Grill page looks like in a Lynx text browser:

The indisputably smallest and securest browser is the Linux command wget. This retrieves a Web page and saves it as a file - no cookies, no history, no pop-ups. (A Windows version of wget also is available.)

wget is very useful if you want to download a series of Web pages in batch mode. For example, you could set up a batch file for 100 downloads from Project Gutenberg, and in the meantime you're in the weight room lowering your BMI.

Because text-based browsers retrieve only the text from a Web page and none of the media, you probably don't need that expensive Internet connection through cable or satellite. It's something to consider.

If you're interested in exploring other text-based browsers, see http://www.google.com/Top/Computers/Software/Internet/Clients/WWW/Browsers/Text-Based/. If you're not interested in learning about such browsers, then you have time to get back on the exercise machine! Mark Lautman

21 comments:

  1. I had the same problem with Allway sync, I ended up downloading an older version (3.1.8) without the usage limits.

    Some others to test out would be

    Toucan
    http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/toucan

    OzSync
    http://www.portablefreeware.com/?id=1314

    DSynchronize
    http://dimio.altervista.org/eng/

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  2. Allway Sync is free for personal use. Does syncing on your office PC still count as personal use?

    You tested SyncBack Free version 3.2.10, but the latest version is 3.2.18. Maybe it has gained the features you seek for (probably not but still worth a try).

    Wikipedia usually has nice comparison tables for different software, but there seems to be no comparison table for sync software (yet).

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  3. Daniel and Mikk, thank you both very much for troubling yourselves to write in. I will try out Toucan and DSynchronize. I did try OzSync, but rejected it because (1) it has no preview and (2) it threw up an error message every time I changed or selected anything.

    Daniel, how much current functionality do you give up by using such an old version of Allway Sync?

    I also will try the newest SyncBack Free, and I am surprised at how far behind my version is, as I downloaded it quite recently.

    Mikk, I did sync on my office computer, but all the sync jobs I set up were for my personal or blog-related files (and believe me, this blog is a labor of love, and not a money maker).

    Thanks again to both of you for your suggestions, and for your readership.

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  4. How much will you pay me not to disclose your BMI?

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  5. Sorry, Ezra old buddy, they can probably guess anyway just by looking at the picture. You'll have to earn your living like the rest of us.

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  6. Kirk O. Brinkworth emailed me: "I too use AllwaySync and so far, haven't hit the limit. There was a
    really nice review of various sync prgms in Tom's Guide from 13/Feb
    that you may want to check out: http://www.tomsguide.com/us/file-sync-backup,review-1060.html . Hope this helps."

    Thanks very much for this useful information, Kirk. I have evaluated the same programs as Tom's Guide, and right now am busy evaluating a couple of new ones suggested by other commenters. I hope to find the perfect free sync tool soon.

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  7. Maybe one of these works for you:
    http://www.portablefreeware.com/?sc=137&p=1

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  8. I also hit the wall with Allway to try and find a Sync (Free) recently too, and I wasn't impressed by any of the free replacements.

    SyncBack Pro is great, but far too expensive. SyncBack Free is too limited in functionality for my needs.

    After testing pretty well everything out there, I decided that the best deal was Good Sync by Siber Systems, with the $10 discount (Google is your friend) which adds up to a meagre $10 a pop. Not as good as Syncback Pro, but better than Allway Sync Pro in my opinion.

    It doesn't find you a freeware solution, but it gets you the functionality that you need for a very reasonable price.

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  9. Mikk, thank you for your suggested sync utilities from The Portable Freeware Collection. Of the utilities listed there, I already have tried Toucan, ozSync, and SyncExp, and ruled them out (either for missing essential features or for not working). I am now putting DSynchronize (also suggested by Daniel above) through its paces, and it comes closer than most to my ideal. I will soon try out PathSync and Portable Unison, the other two tools listed on the Portabel Freeware page. I appreciate your pointing out these new possibilities!

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  10. Anonymous, my thanks also to you for troubling to write in. I concur with your assessments of Allway Sync, SyncBack Pro, and SyncBack Free. I also liked GoodSync when I reviewed it (post #28, 8 July 2007), but didn't like the strict limits on the free version (and was curious about its relationship to Allway Sync). For $10, the full version is a bargain indeed. I'll have to revisit GoodSync to remind myself if its full functionality meets all my needs. Thanks for the idea.

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  11. I use JFileSync and I am very happy of it. It does everything ou mentionned, except startup when a USB key is plugged (I think so, but honestly I never tried as I use it to sync my laptop with a network drive at my office).

    http://jfilesync.sourceforge.net/

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  12. Anonymous, thanks for writing in to suggest JFileSync. I have tried it out thoroughly, and it is indeed one of the best free sync utilities. However, it is a bit inconvenient to use because it only runs one sync job at a time, and each step is manual. To sync multiple folders, you have to load and execute each job in turn.

    DSynchronize overcomes that problem, but I found it sometimes failed to copy files it should have, and did not provide feedback about its actions.

    My search for the perfect sync tool continues....

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  13. Where DO you guys find the TIME to do all this testing????
    Thanks for a VERY informative blog!
    I'll just 'Watch this Space' till the verdict is announced.

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  14. While not exclusively for syncing, Cobian Backup does include functions for this activity. You can find it at http://www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/cobianbackup.htm

    I'm not sure it will meet all your criteria, but it is a very reliable program and deserves a look.

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  15. Finibus BonorumJune 11, 2008 11:26 PM

    Hi Jonathan:

    The following is a copy [just in case it doesn't become posted] of a comment I made today [June 11/08] at GAOTD BeyondSync:

    ________________________________

    As always, I enjoy reading your comments & reviews, especially those at JonathansToolBar&Grill.

    I just noticed a review of PathSync at one of your favourite sites, FreewareGenius. It is very, very compact at 124 kB in size. It has a rather basic interface but supports a number of synchronization options [bidirectional, unidirectional (left to right or right to left)], permits retention or deletion of missing files & folders, permits file masks/filters, and has an "analyze" function that highlights which file(s) will be synchronized [& in which direction]. Synchronization seems to be based solely on file size &/or date, depending upon the options selected. Internal file changes would need to be analyzed by a dedicated file comparator. PathSync does not seem to have any automatization functions such as synchronizing when a USB drive is plugged-in but it does remember the last local & remote directories which in many cases will suffice for me.

    Finibus Bonorum

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  16. To Maximal, Leland, and Finibus: You all commented in response to my mini-review of Beyond Sync at GiveawayOfTheDay. Thank you all very much for writing in!

    Maximal, I must admit it's very difficult to find the time to research and write my blog (not to mention occasional quickie evaluations and comments at GOTD, Lifehacker, Appscout, CNet, and many other sites). This effort takes me about a day a week, and it's exhausting (and unfortunately non-remunerative). But compliments like yours do help keep me going.

    Leland, I recommended Cobian as an excellent free backup tool in post #40. But it lacks sync functionality, which is basically the ability to compare and copy files in two directions (preferably with preview and other extra features).

    Finibus, thank you for the suggestion of PathSync. I evaluated PathSync for my earlier roundup of sync tools (post #27), and was not quite as impressed as my esteemed colleague Samer the FreewareGenius. It does have many useful features (though not all are easy to figure out). But among the reasons it did not make the cut: It does not offer an option to ignore subfolders; its preview is hard to read; it only processes one folder pair at a time; and it has no scheduler of its own.

    Thanks again to all of you for reading my blog. I hope you will be regular visitors!

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  17. To make any program start when the USB stick is plugged it:
    1. Create an autorun.inf file in the root with the following contents:
    ===============
    [Autorun]
    Open=Autorun.bat
    Action=Auto Run Programs
    Icon=any windows icon file
    Label=My USB PC
    =================
    2. In Autorun.bat, add you programs that you want run in the order that you want them to run.

    WRT PathSync, it supports command line invocation, so the following would load MySyncSettings.pss:
    =================
    pathsync.exe -loadpss MySyncSettings.pss -systray -autorun
    ==================
    OR, put all your settings files in a directory and put the following inyour autorun.bat:
    ====================
    FOR %%G IN ("%_dPortableApps%\Data\*.pss") DO %_ePathSync% -loadpss "%%G" -systray -autorun
    ====================

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  18. go2null, thanks very much for sending in this useful information. The ability to auto-start a sync program on insertion of the USB flash disk might be a big part of the solution to my syncing dilemma. One great thing about this blog is that I constantly learn new things from my readers!

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  19. If you're not a privacy freak, and cloud computing doesn't bother you, try www.getdropbox.com. I've been using it for several weeks now with no problems. You get synchronization and backup without a flash disk to lose, and the basic service (2 GB) is free.

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  20. Thank you for writing in, Zev, and for your suggestion of Dropbox. But I'm way ahead of you, chaver. Read my latest post, #76 (Oct. 4, 2008), in which I sing Dropbox's praises. I've been using it happily since September, while also testing Syncplicity and Windows Live Mesh.

    BTW, my apologies for not posting since October. The burden of writing the blog overcame me, and I have been too busy to resume. But I very much appreciate the readership of all my visitors.

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  21. I have been searching for and trying various backup/synchronization software for over a week now. The hours spent doing so is a worry.

    None did all I wanted or how I wanted it done. Most too complicated (do the authors ever use their software in the real world). Getting highly frustrated.

    Then I came across FileGee Backup & Sync Personal Edition 9.1 Free (emphasis on the free)

    Read about it here:

    http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/Back-Up-and-Recovery/FileGee-Backup-Sync-Personal-Edition.shtml

    Get it here:

    http://www.filegee.com/FileGee/English/download.htm

    My search is over (then again I am always on the look out for something better). This is an amazing program with lots of options (clearly layed out, stated and understood).

    Give it a try. I do not think you will be disappointed.

    Would like to hear others comments if you do give it a try.

    Paul

    ReplyDelete